Last week, Aspire’s delayed open water swimming season was finally able to get underway.  First up was Marc Gledhill, an Aspire swimmer and supporter for many years, who on Tuesday 14th July became the second person to complete a CSPF solo swim from Dover to France this year, in 14 hours 44 minutes, so far raising £7,581.  Next, on Thursday 16th July, the first of 12 Aspire relay channel swim teams, the Aspire Kookaburras, successfully swam to France in 15 hours 32 minutes, becoming the first successful CSPF relay team of 2020.  To date, the Kookaburras have raised over £7,700 to support people with Spinal Cord Injury. 

                    Congratulations banner with images ofthe Kookaburras

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the challenges of swimming the Channel remain the same.  Swimmers will have to cope with cold water, jelly fish, sea sickness and the uncertainty of weather and tides. However, once these challenges are overcome this makes the Aspire Relay Channel Swim one of the most enduring and impressive challenges offered by any UK charity.

We talked to Andrew Ogierman, Aspire’s Events Manager, about the difficulties faced by our open water swimmers this year because of the Covid-19 lockdown and the current status of our 2020 swims.

Relay Channel swims

Why was it possible for Channel swimming to start last week?

Channel swims have started to go ahead because boat pilots are able to safely and successfully comply with existing regulations. They have introduced additional safety measures onboard including wearing face masks, copious hand sanitising and wearing of disposable gloves as well as social distancing wherever possible. It won’t entirely be up to pilots as they have to satisfy their insurers they are not breaking rules.

How has Covid-19 impacted on swimmers’ ability to train?

This has been the main challenge for swimmers during lockdown, with pools closed when it was too cold to swim outside and open water venues opening late, plus government travel and gathering restrictions.

Aspire usually holds training weekends in Dover during the Spring to be able to meet all our fabulous swimmers and help them with their training.  Although we were not able to hold these this year, our boat leaders were still able to organise small get togethers for their individual teams and socially distanced training, as they would do anyway as most core training needs to be personal and away from Dover.  Our volunteer boat leaders, who have all swum for Aspire in the past, have once again proved invaluable and, although some may not be able to go across the Channel with their teams due to restrictions on boat capacity, their work in preparing teams has been crucial.

Another difficulty our Channel swimmers faced was in being able to get their two-hour swim completed. This is required by the CSPF to ensure that they can cope with the cooler temperatures likely to be encountered in the Channel and prepare them fully for what lies ahead.  This was a hard challenge for many of our swimmers this year because it has to be in water under 16 degrees and many had to go from virtually no training to a two-hour swim in what, for many, would be colder water than they were used to.  This is an exceptionally steep ramp up and personally I felt the rules could have been relaxed a little this year.

What has been the impact of fundraising with the uncertainty about swims going ahead?

Fundraising from Aspire’s open water swims grows each year and this year was expected to be our biggest year ever.  However, people have been reluctant to get stuck into fundraising given the uncertainties of whether they would swim or not. Hopefully with a team having swum this will now change, although there is also a hesitancy to approach people to ask for sponsorship in uncertain economic times.  Some swimmers had planned quiz nights and dinners which had to be cancelled or postponed.

Are you worried that all the teams won’t swim?  

Yes, as regulations permitting swims could change and there is also the weather to factor in.  In any year it is always possible teams may not swim and they are always given priority the following year.

We are in constant contact with the boat pilots.  Many non-Aspire swim teams have already decided not to swim this year so whenever we are offered space on a tide, we will endeavour to get one of our teams across. 

Aspire Kookaburras relay channel swim team on the beach

What is the current status with Aspire’s other open water swims?

River Arun

We are currently expecting Swimquest's River Arun swims to go ahead on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th September.  The smaller number of swimmers for this swim means that we will be able to safely and successfully comply with regulations.

Solent Swims

We are still hoping that we will be able to go ahead with our Solent swims this year.  We have a pruned down plan with maximum swim size of eight swimmers, rather than the usual 12. Under current regulations we are able to operate and are finalising plans for our August and September dates. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our new Western Solent swim as we had not been able to fully recce or promote the event this summer and it was aimed at larger numbers of swimmers.

Scottish Swims

Loch Ness and Loch Lomond were cancelled a few weeks ago because the pilot did not feel confident that he could comply with the Scottish government regulations and he was concerned that swimmers would not be able to prepare properly for the cooler Scottish waters.

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